By Daniel J. Bauer
As I write these words, a student at National Taiwan University (NTU) lies comatose in a hospital, the result of a role play of a ghost hanging that went awry several days ago. The accident happened as part of a multi-level skills-training effort, call it a workshop or college-sponsored vacation camp, or whatever.
Our thoughts and prayers are with this 19-year-old college freshman, his family, and loved ones. I am also thinking very much these days about this young man’s classmates, and the students as well with whom he was serving his university at this star-crossed camp of theirs. Those students had good intentions and were helping others when this scary game suddenly turned disastrous. There should be no rush to condemnation here. Sad as the story is, we all must look at the wider picture.
Do you know, for example, how difficult it can be on college campuses nowadays to get students to volunteer for student association service and activities designed to help, entertain, or educate others? Try being a department chair or a dean. You’ll find in a hurry that “service learning” may be more popular when it comes with a plane ticket and trip to an exotic foreign country than with a request to sacrifice precious vacation days (and nights) to meet the needs of people of your own culture here at home.
Students who worked hard for that unlucky affair at NTU may now be reluctant to say yes to future opportunities to serve their university or society. They shouldn’t be. They can learn from the bad that happened, as we all can, and continue to do good for others in the days ahead. Pain for Entire Community What explains a particular sadness we may feel here? In many ways, Taiwan is very small. Our individual populations are often so interconnected that when a tragedy hits, for example, a single university student, it is as if a community event has occurred. Pain originally aflame for only a few, becomes pain also for the entire, wider community. Unspecified, anonymous sadness over “a news story” that smacks of the abstract, suddenly becomes much closer and, on an emotional level, personal. Thus, what happens to one student and his family may seem to happen psychologically and even spiritually to all students, and all our families. Initial reports said that the parents of the stricken student stood aside, their hands clenched and heads bowed in prayer, while medical personnel scurried about. Who among us cannot identify with their grief?
Student “camps” or other similar activities to introduce new students or recruit high school students to our campuses have long been part of the fabric of Taiwan college life. These activities are valuable in many ways. Faculty members often also participate, either in the planning stage or in the events themselves. Many times my colleagues and I have taught “university classes” our student leaders have sponsored for area high school students to give our younger friends a taste or “sample” of what college courses are like. Even when less is expected of me as a part-timer, I still receive invitations to be a part of orientation sessions, freshman camps, and student efforts similar to the one that turned upside down at